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R-E-S-P-E-C-T the key to vocal employees, research finds

Media release

Professional employees are more likely to have the confidence to speak up at work if they feel motivated and respected by their colleagues, new research involving Curtin University has found.

Businessman pointing while speaking through microphone during seminar in convention center

The research, published in the Journal of Management, suggests that a worker’s willingness to speak up in the workplace is boosted by respect they receive from their colleagues.

ARC Laureate Fellow Professor Sharon Parker, from the Centre for Transformative Work Design based at Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute, said vocal employees were crucial for organisations to continue to improve, adapt and innovate.

“Employees who have the confidence to voice their opinions can encourage positive change in the workplace and create a strong, high-performing team. If employees don’t speak up, this can cause major accidents, reduce team learning, and impair innovation,” Professor Parker said.

“Previous research suggests that factors such as an employee’s personality traits, job conditions, and organisational characteristics all influence their voice in the workplace, but our research aimed to identify the social factors that contributed to a person’s motivation to speak up.

“We found that employees who believed they were respected by their co-workers were more likely to experience proactive motivation and positive mind-sets in their jobs, which in turn led to them having a stronger voice within their roles.”

The research also found that individuals who had the perspective taking ability to understand and relate to the thoughts and views of others were more likely to gain respect from their colleagues, which motivated them to speak up.

Professor Parker explained that instead of managers focusing on simply telling employees to use their voice, which may cause stress and resistance from employees, they should focus on fostering a respectful culture in which employees feel able and energised to speak up.

“Giving employees verbal praise and non-verbal approval, showing appreciation for their work, celebrating their achievements and elevating their public image is very important for promoting active voice in the workplace,” Professor Parker said.

The research, funded by Hong Kong General Research Fund, was led by Dr Thomas W.H. Ng and Dr Dennis Y. Hsu from the University of Hong Kong.

The paper titled, ‘Received respect and constructive voice: the roles of proactive motivation and perspective taking’, can be found online here.